by Lina Martinez

Alcohol is a curious beast. It’s perfectly legal and completely normalized, yet it damages millions of lives every year. It is, by the very medical definition of the word, a drug yet it is not as demonized as something like cannabis which is also legal in some states. It can help us unwind after a hard days work and help us gain some perspective on our troubles but if we allow it to it can also lead to troubles of its own. It’s the cause of more antisocial behavior than the dangerous synthetic cannabis strain “spice”, yet there are entire TV shows dedicated to its enjoyment. Alcohol is like virtually anything else; it’s neither inherently good not inherently bad. It has no agenda of its own, nor are we slaves to its insidious message. But it can have far reaching and damaging effects on our health (both physical and mental), our relationships, our jobs and our careers. Underestimate the effect that it can have on your life at your peril.

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You needn’t be enslaved to the physical and emotional rigors of alcohol, not need you eschew it altogether to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. You do, however, need to take an uncompromising look at the way in which it affects you and address any bad habits and negative behaviors you may display when it comes to your relationship with alcohol. Nobody sets out to become an alcoholic nor do they begin their relationship with alcohol imagining that they’ll become dependent upon it. Yet, there’s a slippery slope. One minute you can be enjoying a bottle of wine with dinner on a Friday night, the next you can be putting away a couple of bottles a day over the weekend and before you know it you’re staring down the prospect of DUI injury settlements, public disgrace and the loss of your job. Alcohol is extremely addictive and to acknowledge that you may be prone to this addiction is not an admission to being weak willed. Everyone assumes that it will never happen to them, but accepting that there’s a possibility (however slight) of it happening to you is the first step to building a safe and healthy relationship with drinking.

Understand what alcohol is doing to your body

One of the first ways in which to address your relationship with alcohol is to acquaint yourself with its effects. You may associate alcohol with laughter, merriment, find memories and social enjoyment but it’s actually a depressant. If you already have mental health issues around anxiety and / or depression, an unhealthy relationship with alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms. Those who suffer from depression can find themselves self medicating with alcohol and locking themselves into a downward trajectory.

If you’re trying to get in shape, drinking too much alcohol can derail your attempts at fitness and weight loss. Alcohol slows your metabolism and affects your insulin response to the foods you eat, meaning that those stubborn pounds become a whole lot more stubborn. Alcohol also dries the skin of your face causing you to look older. If you’re plagued by anxieties about your wrinkles, you may find that if you carry on drinking regularly, it doesn’t matter how many moisturizing treatments you apply, your skin may never regain its youthful luster.

But weight gain and wrinkles are just the tip of the iceberg. If you fail to develop healthier and safer drinking habits you may increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver (which can ultimately be fatal).  

It’s all about moderation

Of course, you don’t have to be a devout teetotaller to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, but you do have to get into the habit of self policing when it comes to alcohol intake. A big part of this comes with knowing what constitutes a healthy alcohol intake and how much is too much. The CDC recommends 1 unit of alcohol a day for women and 2 for men. It is not recommended that you save all of these up for the weekend as binge drinking is proven to not only place you at additional risk of erratic behaviors but can lead to increased damage to the liver. A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to a single 12 oz beer, or 5 oz glass of wine.

If you stick to this you will still be able to enjoy the flavor and texture of your drink as well as the ways in which it can unlock different flavors in your food, without having to worry about adverse effects.   

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Stop saying “I need a drink”

Unless the drink you’re referring to is water (which is something you unquestionably do need), nobody needs a drink. When you have has a stressful day at work or had some bad news, you may be filled with stress and anxiety. You may feel set to burst and you need an outlet for your emotions. But if your go-to is “I need a drink” this is actually quite a telling admission. It tells you that you’ve created some unhelpful associations with alcohol. It tells you that you’ve identified alcohol as the sole means by which you can relieve the stress that the day has inflicted upon you. And if so, that’s a sign that you may need to reassess your dependence on alcohol as a stress relief valve. While there’s evidence to support that alcohol does relieve stress, if it’s your only outlet, it’s sadly inevitable that addiction is just around the corner (unless you can come up with a way living a completely stress free life).

Find healthier substitutes

If alcohol has become your only means of stress relief, you need to find some healthy alternatives to replace it. If you’ve had a stressful day at work, get down to the gym. Push some weights, work up a sweat with some high intensity interval training or punch the Hell out of a bag. If you associate the taste of alcohol with stress relief, find a delicious non alcoholic alternative.

If you have other means of relieving stress, you’re far more likely to enjoy a healthy relationship with alcohol.